The South Asia Channel

Bomb Kills 15 Bus-Riding Government Employees; Fifth Helmand District Falls to the Taliban; Kashmiri Students Beaten Up Over Beef Rumors

Pakistan Bomb kills 15 bus-riding government employees On Wednesday, a bomb exploded in a bus carrying government employees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar just after 8:00am local time (NYT, WSJ, BBC, CBS, RFE/RL). 15 people were killed and 53 others were injured when an improvised explosive device planted in a piece of luggage that ...

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Pakistani volunteers and security forces inspect a destroyed bus after a bomb blast in Peshawar on March 16, 2016. At least 16 people were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a bomb blew up inside a bus in Peshawar, the main city of Pakistan's insurgency-wracked northwest, officials said, with the toll feared to rise. / AFP / A MAJEED (Photo credit should read A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan

Bomb kills 15 bus-riding government employees

On Wednesday, a bomb exploded in a bus carrying government employees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar just after 8:00am local time (NYT, WSJ, BBC, CBS, RFE/RL). 15 people were killed and 53 others were injured when an improvised explosive device planted in a piece of luggage that was left behind detonated when the bus was traveling in Saddar, the city center and a busy area of Peshawar. According to Abbas Majid Marwat, a senior police official, the bus was transporting the employees from the town of Mardan to Peshawar, both in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban has a history of conducting attacks in Peshawar.

Pakistani Supreme Court lifts travel ban on Musharraf

The Pakistani Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government to lift the travel ban on former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf (Reuters, ET). Musharraf, currently awaiting trial on charges of treason and other crimes, is now free to leave the country after returning from self-imposed exile in 2013. Seizing power in a military coup in 1999 against then- and current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when serving as Chief of Army Staff, Musharraf stepped down in 2008 and began his exile from Pakistan. Musharraf remains free on bail in connection to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and the 2006 death of a prominent cleric, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. Musharraf was acquitted in Bugti’s murder case in January 2016. Musharraf, 70 years old, is in ill health and will travel abroad for medical care.

–Albert Ford

Afghanistan

Fifth Helmand district falls to the Taliban

On Tuesday, Khan Neshin became the fifth district in the embattled Helmand province to fall under the control of the Taliban (NYT, Post). A firefight between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces personnel broke out late Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning. The fall of Khan Neshin comes in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Musa Qala and Now Zad districts on Feb. 21. Two other districts, Sangin and Kajaki, are nearly fully controlled by the Taliban, except for government centers. Baryalia Nazari, a provincial council member, said, “I’m afraid if this continues the province of Helmand will fall soon.” Some remain optimistic. Last month, a fresh deployment of 700 U.S. troops moved from other locations in Afghanistan to Helmand. The Helmand police chief, Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang, said, “The Taliban only attack outposts and overrun them, and we are retaking those posts from them, so it does not mean they are dominating Helmand.”

The fall of Khan Neshin came as NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, was in Kabul for meetings with President Ashraf Ghani. Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s support for Afghanistan and Afghan security forces, saying, “We will continue to provide financial support so they can be sustainable in the long term. The single most important thing we want to see is that Afghanistan continue to implement reforms.” He also acknowledged the impending trouble, commenting, “I expect 2016 to be difficult.”

Ghani: IS is “on the run” in Afghanistan

During NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg’s visit to Kabul, Afghan President Ahsraf Ghani chose to highlight the successes of the country’s campaign against the Islamic State (IS), and downplayed the continued struggles against the Taliban (Reuters). Ghani said, “Daesh (IS) is on the run. They are running for cover.” Due to U.S.-NATO airstrikes and a “massive” ground operation from Afghan security forces, IS in Nangarhar and other locations on the AfPak border have been under increased threat over the last few months. In continuance of this operation and other support for Afghanistan, Stoltenberg and NATO have pledged $5.1 billion per year through 2017 to Afghanistan.

–Albert Ford

India

Kashmiri students beaten up over beef rumors

Four Kashmiri students were beaten up at the dormitories of Mewar University in the northern state of Rajasthan on Monday, due to suspicions that they were cooking beef in their rooms (BBC). According to media reports, the police intervened and defused the situation, but samples from the meat were sent for forensic tests. While the university administration wrote off the incident as a “small scuffle,” numerous incidents of violence against minorities have recently taken place in India over the consumption of beef. Most states in India ban cow slaughter as the animal is considered sacred by India’s majority Hindu community. Last September, a 50-year-old Muslim man was lynched by a Hindu mob in the state of Uttar Pradesh over rumours that his family had been storing and consuming beef.

New legislation proposed by BJP raises privacy concerns

The BJP government in India is attempting to pass legislation that will give all federal agencies, including law enforcement agencies,  access to the country’s largest biometric database, Aadhaar (Reuters). The Aadhaar database scheme was started nearly seven years ago and was set up to organize payment of government subsidies and direct cash transfers to citizens, while cutting down on fraud. Nearly a billion people have already registered their fingerprints and iris signatures in this system. Last week, the government was able to pass the proposed bill through Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, where the BJP has a majority. On Wednesday, Rajhya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament, sent the bill back to the lower house after raising privacy concerns.

Critics of the government’s attempt have raised privacy concerns, arguing that new legislation could enable surveillance far more intrusive than anywhere in the world. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the legislation in parliament this week, saying Aadhaar database saved the government approximately 150 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) in the 2014-2015. A finance ministry spokesman added that the government had taken steps to ensure citizens’ privacy would be respected and the authority to access data was exercised only in rare cases.

–Shuja Malik

Edited by Peter Bergen

A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images

Albert Ford is a research assistant with the International Security Program at New America.
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